Others, myself included, wonder why Barbara Couture was selected president of a Land-Grant University in the first place. Both Couture and the current Provost are English majors while NMSU is THE Land-Grant University in New Mexico. Sorry to seem to slur English majors. There is nothing wrong with English majors per se, but English majors are so far afield from Agriculture and Engineering.
This drama concerns NMSU’s identity. The University of New Mexico is a comprehensive university covering everything except Agriculture. UNM has medical, law and pharmacy schools and it teaches everything academically except, that of the NMSU mission, Agriculture.
For the last 122 years NMSU (It has had several names but is now NMSU) has been New Mexico’s Land-Grant Institution and site of the New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture. While it has many of the same collegiate academic programs as UNM, the difference is the Land-Grant mission. That mission involves Agriculture, Engineering, Business Administration, Education and Military Science. This mission is unique to NMSU and separates it from other universities in the state, especially UNM.
NMSU having such a precise mission over the last 122 years has allowed UNM and NMSU to thrive outside of each other’s special areas. Lately, though, people have been asking: why has the leadership of NMSU been acting like NMSU is not a Land-Grant University? That is what caused the fuss with the NMSU Regents.
Many stakeholders have been urging the Regents to defend the mission upon which the university was founded and has operated so successfully. NMSU is connected to the Morrill Act of 1862 and the Agricultural College Act of 1890. Additionally the Hatch Act of 1887 established the Agricultural Experiment Station while the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established the New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service.
These last few years has the leadership of NMSU been trying to change the name to New Mexico University and shed the Land-Grant mission? In fact, this has been a battle for years.
Some members of the NMSU community seem to want to drop the State out of NMSU and just be New Mexico University, a comprehensive university exactly like the University of New Mexico but 225 miles to the South. Why would New Mexico need one more University of New Mexico? We do not.
Over several NMSU presidents and interim presidents this has been the buzz. Then Barbara Couture was selected and she, in my opinion, charged forward in the anti-Agriculture movement.
Example: my 86 year-old uncle was at the Golden A celebration at Homecoming. It is for NMSU graduates from more than fifty years earlier. As his primary caregiver I go with him. The first year President Couture spoke to the group she neglected to mention anything about Agriculture or Engineering. Since most of the attendees were Engineering and Agriculture it caused a stir. They noticed. I mentioned this to her as she walked around. I pointed out 90 percent of the attendees were Ag and Engineering. She brushed me off.
The next year she did the same thing. The attendees were furious. It was not an oversight; rather, it was a thumb in the eye of these Ag and Engineering graduates. The NMSU identity issue could not be any clearer.
In the first 31 years NMSU had nine different presidents. Then they went 73 years with just seven. Three presidents served consecutively for 40 years and it was the best leadership NMSU ever had. NMSU had stable leadership from 1921 to 1994. Then identity politics raised its head. The problem is there is no longer consensus on mission. If the Regents and leadership of NMSU move away from Agriculture and Engineering they do so at the peril of the institution. NMSU Colleges of Business Administration and Education support Agriculture and Engineering and form the legs of the mission.
An appeal to the NMSU Regents: please reestablish the Agriculture and Engineering mission of NMSU by your selection of the next NMSU president.
Dr. Michael Swickard is co-host of radio talk show News New Mexico 6 to 9 a.m. Monday - Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org